The Islamic saint is commonly known as a wali [plural, awliya] and is derived from the root meaning of ‘nearness’, example next of kin, patron, protector, and friend. While the Sufis are the elect of the Islamic community, the saints are the elect of the Sufis.
The Sufis holiness brings him near to Almighty Allah, and who receive from Him [Exalted and Invisible is He], as tokens of His favor, miraculous gifts [karamat]; they are His friends, on whom "no fear shall come and they shall not grieve", and injury done to them is an act of hostility against Him [Exalted and Invisible is He]. In consequence of their intimate relation to Almighty Allah, the veil shrouding supernatural, or, as Muslims would say, the unseen world, from their perceptions is withdrawn at intervals, and in their fits of ecstasy they rise to the Prophetic level. Any one thus enraptured [majdhub] is a wali and they are venerated as saints not only after death, but also during their lives. Often, however, they live and die in obscurity (shadows).
Shaikh Sayyid Ali ibn Uthman al-Hujwiri (known in Pakistan as Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh), tell us that amongst the saints, "there are 4000 who are concealed and do not know one another and are not aware of the excellence of their state, being in all circumstances hidden from themselves and from mankind."
The saints from an invincible hierarchy, on which the order of the world is thought to depend. Its supreme head is entitled the Qutb [Axis] and he is the most eminent Sufi of his age, and presides over the meetings regularly held by this august parliament, whose members are not hampered in their attendance by the inconvenient fictions of time and space, but come together from all parts of the earth in the twinkling of an eye, traversing seas and mountains and deserts as easily as common mortals step across a road. Below the Qutb stand various classes and grades of sanctity. Hujwiri enumerates them, in ascending series, as follows: 300 Akhyar [Good], 40 Abdal [Substitutes], 7 Abrar [Pious], 4 Awtad [Supports], and 3 Nuqaba [Overseers].
"All these saints know one another and cannot act without mutual consent. It is the task of the Awtad to go round the whole world every night, and if there should be any place on which their eyes have not fallen, next day some flaw will appear in that place, and they must then inform the Qutb in order that he may direct his attention to the weak spot and that by his blessings the imperfection may be remedied."
[Courtesy: The Mystics of Islam by Dr. Reynold A. Nicholson]
Shaikh Sayyiduna Abdul Qadir Jilani (may Allah be pleased with him) once said that if Shaikh Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Uthman al-Jullabi al-Hujwiri (may Allah be pleased with him) was still alive, he would be a disciple of this great Awliya. Shaikh Hujwiri was born in a small town in Afghanistan near Ghazni. He came to Lahore in 1039, during the reign of Sultan Masud, the son of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni and stayed until his death in 1073. Such was the gratitude of the people of Lahore for his spiritual gifts that they called him by the simple Hindi name "Data" [meaning "the giver"] or else "Data Ganj Bakhsh" ["the giver who bestows treasure"]. Shaikh Hujwiri exerted a significant influence on Muslim spiritual life through his writings, above all the famous Kashf al-mahjub [Revelation of the Mystery] and his tomb, which was built by the grandson of Sultan Mahmud, remains an important hub for followers of Sufism from all schools.
When Shaikh Sayyid Muinuddin Chishti (may Allah be well pleased with him) came from Afghanistan to India in the closing years of the 12th century, he is said to have stopped to pray and meditate at the tomb of Shaikh Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Uthman al-Jullabi al-Hujwiri (may Allah be pleased with him) to seek permission to go further, since Data Ganj Bakhsh had spiritual authority over the entire Indian sub-continent. Shaikh Sayyid Muinuddin Chishti (may Allah be well pleased with him) evidently received permission to proceed, together with the extensive authority, and as a result, the Chishti Sufi Tariqat is probably the most extensive lineage in South Asia.
Present day Chishti Sufi leaders in Pakistan have criticized Dr. Reynold A. Nicholson for his assumption that Sufi doctrine and practice was some kind later deviation from pristine Islam; and these Chishti Sufi leaders maintained that it is in fact Sufism that provides the surest guide to the true meaning of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). In this spirit the late Captain Maulana Wahid Bakhsh Sial Rabbani (may Allah be pleased with him), produced a new, complete English translation and commentary on Shaikh Hujwiri's Kashf al-mahjub. Nevertheless Capt. Maulana Wahid Bakhsh Sial Rabbani (may Allah be pleased with him) also acknowledged that it was Nicholson's translation of Kashf al-mahjub that in 1935 inspired the conversion to Islam of a young Englishman named Lennard, who later became a Chishti master under his Muslim name, Shahidullah Faridi. So it might be concluded that even writings produced with an Orientalist perimeter can have a personal impact, in which the spiritual blessing [baraka], of the original text comes through.